Sunday, January 7, 2024

EP 64 What We Can All Learn from Bayard Rustin a Conversation with Richard D. Kahlenberg


Bayard Rustin - Library of Congress, Warren K. Leffler

What We Can All Learn from Bayard Rustin a Conversation with Richard D. Kahlenberg

If you have not yet seen the Netflix biopic "Rustin" a project of Barach and Michelle Obama, it is a movie well worth your time. The movie unveils the extraordinary genius and timeless persistence of Bayard Rustin who in a very short 2 month window of time pulled off the Magnum Opus of citizen action. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. 

Richard Kahlenberg

The climax of the movie is the 1963 March on Washington, an obvious place to end this movie but less than satisfying for its failure to pose the broader and more important historic questions about the direction of change that was to follow the March. 

This series of questions are the ones raised in Richard Kahlenberg's critique of the movie. His satisfaction with the pure recognition of Rustin is apparent but so too is his disappointment that the Obama's failed to use this movie as a teachable moment, beyond introducing this extraordinary man to a generation of citizens who have missed an important moment in time and the contributions of a gay, black man, persistent in a time when he was, at best, a second class citizen, even among those in the movement.

Bayard Rustin ( 1912-1987)may just be the most important Civil Rights leader of the past century of whom you have never heard.  As the lead organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, he was the genius behind the protest that has set the standard for protests in the country. He was also the man who introduced a young Martin Luther King to the teachings of Ghandi on non-violent resistance that would inspire the remainder of King's life and an entire generation of civil rights advocates. 

An African American and openly gay man who has largely been erased from the history surrounding one of the most historic moments of the last two centuries and a movement that has helped to overcome thousands of years of marginalization for people of color. 

Ironically, if you take Rustin's writings and interviews in toto you would see that none of the "tribes" into which we seem to have separated ourselves over the past half-century would be considered the defining aspect of Rustin's own personal identity. 

Gay Man, Black Man, Socialist, activist, pacifist: these and other silos of identity that too often define us to ourselves and one another would pale in the shadow of the all-encircling title of  "human being" and "Citizen".  

In fact, the gains that accrued to all citizens from the 1963 march were largely color blind. . . and that is precisely what Rustin wanted. He believed that by recognizing the pain and marginalization of all people we could draw the circle infinitely larger and thus expand on the base of support. Dr. King and other like Representative John Lewis, came to believe in this more expanded circle: seeking justice and equality for all.  

It was the great civil rights attorney and later Episcopal priest Pauli Murray who put it this way:

“when others try to exclude me, I draw my circles wider to include them.” 

The Shadows We Cast


My Thanks to Richard Kahlenberg for not only sharing his time with us today but also for sharing the vision that he so clearly shares with Bayard Rustin for creating what Dr. King called the beloved community.  His website is 

If you are among the many people who find the current state of affairs in our country discouraging, Kahlenberg, channeling the likes of both Rustin and Pauli Murray, among others offers his own ideas of achieving the same ends by embracing what Jonathan Haidt calls Common identity politics - drawing wider and wider circles to expand our connections and our common humanity - distinguishing it from Common Enemy thinking.  

It's not too late for us to learn this lesson.

Mixed Maples in Langdon Woods
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Read his commentary on "Rustin" here

Byard Rustin - On MLK

Bayard Rustin - Wikipedia

Lone Birch in the Snow
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Jonathan Haight

There are two kinds of identity politics. One is good. The other, very bad.
Why free thought has died on university campuses.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, also known as simply the March on Washington or The Great March on Washington, was held in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963. The purpose of the march was to advocate for the civil and economic rights of African Americans. Wikipedia
Date: August 28, 1963
Location: Washington, D.C.

The King Center at Stanford University

Lone Pine in a Painted Sky
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About Richard Kahlenberg

Richard Kahlenberg's Website

Richard D. Kahlenberg is an education and housing policy researcher, writer, consultant, and speaker.  
The author or editor of 18 books, Kahlenberg has been recognized primarily for his expertise in three policy areas:

  • Zoning barriers to housing opportunities His work on how housing policies inhibit educational opportunities made him one of Washingtonian magazine’s top 25 most influential people shaping education policy.
Kahlenberg’s articles have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the New Republic, and elsewhere. He has appeared on ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, PBS, and NPR.
His books include: Excluded: How Snob Zoning, NIMBYism, and Class Bias Build the Walls We Don't See (PublicAffairs Press, 2023); A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education (with Halley Potter) (Teachers College Press, 2014), Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right: Rebuilding a Middle-Class Democracy by Enhancing Worker Voice (with Moshe Marvit) (Century Foundation Press, 2012); Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race and Democracy (Columbia University Press, 2007); All Together Now: Creating Middle Class Schools through Public School Choice (Brookings Institution Press, 2001); The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action (Basic Books, 1996); and Broken Contract: A Memoir of Harvard Law School (Hill & Wang/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1992).

The Remedy was named one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post, and Tough Liberal was named one of the best books written on labor unions by the Wall Street Journal
Kahlenberg has been a Senior Fellow at The Century Foundation, a Fellow at the Center for National Policy, a visiting associate professor of constitutional law at George Washington University, and a legislative assistant to Senator Charles S. Robb (D-VA).

His work has been supported by leading foundations including Broad, Jack Kent Cooke, Ford, Gates, Hewlett, Lumina, Nellie Mae, Spencer, Walton, and W.T. Grant.

He serves on the advisory boards of the Pell Institute and the Albert Shanker Institute. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.
Richard D. Kahlenberg, a nonresident scholar at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, is working on a book about affirmative action for PublicAffairs books.

Books by Richard Kahlenberg

The Remedy: Class, Race, And Affirmative Action

Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles 
Over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy

The Future of School Integration: Socioeconomic Diversity as an Education Reform Strategy (Century Foundation Books (Century Foundation Press)) Kindle Edition

Other readings & links:

Making Gay History

Bayard Rustin, the hidden activist of ‘Selma’
The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) Bio of Rustin

On November 20, 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The music for The Radical Centrist podcast is provided by Free Joseph and can be purchased at his website - or anywhere that you purchase fine music.

Longview Farm Pumpkins and flowers
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White Stallion in a Monochrome Dreamscape
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A Home Among the Lupine
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